Monday, February 12, 2007

[Posted on Monday 12 February 2007]

Also in today's blog
Simon Heffer on the Great Divide

Reading Richard Charkin's blog on Saturday morning, I was surprised to see that the list of "just a few of our recent and sure-fire future successes" included a book called The Adultery Club by Tess Stimson.

Of the many titles, in recent years, aimed at readers with nothing between the ears, surely this is an outstanding example?

Here's a review of the book from Amazon UK. "Absolute rubbish. Trite, plagiarised and hackneyed. Buy it only when you have thrown away any other form of reading material including cereal box ingredients. Miss Stimson has taken well known and well circulated round robin emails and is passing them off as her own work (clearly as there is no credit in the book that I could see). Her florid and sweaty prose with regard to the male lead character's public schoolboy-esque longings is tedious and hormonal and none of her characters are remotely likeable. Don't bother."

At Ms Stimson's site, her bio tells us that she "was born and brought up in Sussex, England. As a child, she lived for several years in Greece and Africa, before winning a scholarship to Notre Dame School, Lingfield. She subsequently read English at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she received the Eleanor Rooke Award (for English Literature), the Dorothy Whitelock Award (for Anglo-Saxon), and was made an Exhibitioner."

You would think with that interesting start in life, she would have aspired to write in a more rewarding field than the murky lower reaches of chick lit.

Yes, there's a lot of adultery about in the real world, but there are also many, many bookworms for whom adultery is on a par with shop-lifting, arson, lying etc. They can't identify with people who do these things.

But, you may argue, a great many decent people enjoy reading crime fiction, so why should they reject tales of adultery? The reason is probably because most crime fiction is concerned with murder, and murder is not something most of us ever encounter except in the press. Adultery is more commonplace. Even if we've never had any direct experience of it ourselves, we almost certainly know someone who has and have pitied or despised them, depending on whether they were the victims or the adulterers.

Tess Stimson has herself experienced adultery. In an interview on the Pan Macmillan page [this site can be slow-loading] she is asked –

"So – whose side are you on in The Adultery Club? Is there a character that you sympathise with more than the others?"

To which she replies -
"I identify with both women – the younger woman, Sara, who falls in love with a married man she can’t have, and the loyal wife, Mal, betrayed and afraid of losing her family – because I have worn both pairs of shoes. My first husband left me and our two sons, then aged 4 and 1, for a woman twenty-two years his junior, which was extremely painful. But I can’t claim to be an innocent, either, because when I was in my early twenties, I had a brief affair with a married man (though I didn’t know he was married at the time.) But as to whose side I’m on: that of each character in turn, as they tell their story. I hope the reader is, too."

Simon Heffer on the Great Divide

Earlier on Saturday morning, I read a piece by Simon Heffer at The Spectator which concludes –

"It is pointless to complain about the utter lack of academic rigour in all this, since such a concept seems to have gone out of the window years ago. Were one a conspiracy theorist, one might conclude that it suits the Government very well to create such a bovine population so lacking in curiosity. Or, perhaps we must accept that schools are now designed to be expensive and inefficient child-minding operations. Their new purpose is to teach children things their parents should, and to try to engage their curiosity in the most basic fashion because many parents don't, and won't."

"So perhaps we need a national curriculum for parents. Since the Government is happy to interfere in family life (or what remains of it) in every other way, this shouldn't be beyond them. It would be much better, of course, if the parents of this country realised that it might be better if they took a firmer hand themselves. Otherwise, in 20 or 30 years' time, the gap between the small, educated minority and the massive, uneducated majority will represent the greatest class divide in this country since before the 1870 Education Act, and will present our country with a social danger greater than most of us can bear to imagine."

From where I'm sitting, the gap is already a frighteningly wide crevasse. Every day the so-called broadsheet newspapers become more and more like the tabloids. On Friday Susan Hill was having a rant about the quality of the stuff in The Times. But as she prefaced her comments with – "I don`t buy newspapers now apart from my Daily Mail-over-coffee-fix" – I couldn't take her strictures too seriously.

But is it really necessary for supposedly reputable publishers to cater to the market for tripe? Silly question, I guess. All any of the the big publishers care about nowadays is the bottom line.


At 13 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments on Tess Stimson seem pretty trite in themselves. You seem to be saying that she shouldn't write fiction about people you don't like. Some of the best sort of fiction of all time concerns 'people you don't like' and then shows how they are human. Check out Shakespeare's Richard II or even Mr Darcy. I'm not a fan of chick lit myself, and will probably never read Tess Stimson, and I suspect from your blog neither have you. So why should we take your comments seriously?

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